11 May 2007

The Big Bam

In 1920, his first year with the Yankees, George Herman Ruth hit 54 home runs and changed baseball forever. There were 16 teams in the major leagues then. The Babe had more homers than 14 of them. His nearest "competitor" (George Sisler of the St. Louis Browns) had 19. By the 1930's, "sluggers" were on every team, and guys like Jimmie Foxx, Mel Ott and Lou Gehrig would obtain baseball immortality by following in the Babe's footsteps. Leigh Montville's engrossing new biography, The Big Bam: the life and times of Babe Ruth, is a sensitive and sympathetic portrait of this larger-than-life American character. Mr. Montville knows that many of the stories about Ruth are legend, myth, and outright nonsense, and is careful to point out what was actually witnessed and documented as well as what was lost in the fog of history. He gives us a look at the times, and like all good biographers, sees his subject in that context. He fortunately avoids romanticizing "the good old days" and does his best to give us an unvarnished view of the era and the man. The Big Bam is an enjoyable read, and students of noir would benefit from a look at it. After all, George Herman Ruth performed his exploits during the heyday of the pulps, and his impact on the public imagination has all the earmarks of an action hero. For better or worse, he really was such a character to his legion of fans, and he has left a legacy impossible to dismiss. I wonder if school kids would enjoy history class more if they got to read stuff like this.

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